By: Vivienne Machi, Staff Writer
When you have a piece of art adorn as prominent a public space as, say, the Great Miami River, it would make sense to want to get to know the artist in question. And as the city prepares to start construction on the RiverScape River Run project, you’ll wonder about the artist behind the colorful active living-themed mural across from the RiverScape pavilion.
Meet Amy Deal, our Daytonian of the Week. Though she’s a current Oakwood resident, Deal lived in the Oregon District before getting married and works out of her studio in the Linden-Davis building. You might have seen her visually striking paintings — brightly colored portraits and intimate human scenes painted over typographic collages — hung up in the Dayton Visual Arts Center, or her graphic design skills helping to promote local businesses. She also happens to be sister-in-law to two pretty prominent Dayton musicians, twin sisters Kim and Kelley Deal.
We stopped by Deal’s studio to talk about the Gem City’s revival, the river that runs it while running through it, and the best taco truck in the city.
Tell me about when you lived in Dayton.
I grew up in St. Henry (Village, in Mercer County) as a farmer’s daughter, but have been in Dayton for 26 years. I lived in the Oregon District for a while, right on the corner of Brown and Sixth where KLH Engineering is now. I was up on the third floor. My husband Kevin and I had our first kiss out on the fire escape, and then four years later, he took me back down there and he proposed to me on that same fire escape.
What are some of your favorite aspects of Dayton?
When I was younger, I was really only into the restaurant and bar scenes downtown. I loved the Arcade; I loved Charley’s Crab. It was definitely busier, and once it slowed down, I started settling down and focusing on the kids. And now, our youngest is 16, and as soon as our youngest graduates, we are moving downtown. We’ve found so many people who are passionate, who love the city and we both really want to be a part of that.
Especially the Dayton Visual Arts Center. I’ve never felt unwelcome; they’re always there to push you and make you want to be better yourself. And I was just part of the Dayton Neighborhood Leadership Institute class for this year — I learned how the city works, I got to do a ride-along with a police officer. And just meeting people from every neighborhood, and seeing how passionate they are about their specific neighborhood, it just made me realize (Dayton’s) a community where everyone wants the same thing.
What’s your first memory of Dayton?
I was probably five years old, and my mother drove me in for an orthodontist appointment — where I came from, we didn’t have any — and I’ll never forget just looking up at the big city. I was one of the kids whose grandparents would take me to Rike’s at Christmas time to see the huge displays. That’s when Dayton was Dayton — but it’s all going to come back.
What is one thing that you think Dayton still needs, the centerpiece to bring it back?
I have always thought that the river is central to Dayton. I would love to see more restaurants where RiverScape is, just to get more activity back there. Water’s fun. It’s fun to watch, it’s fun to listen to — and they are developing around the river; I would just love to see more.
Let’s talk about your design for the River Run mural.
I really wanted all ages to enjoy it, for kids to like looking at it. And I wanted it to be active. Once the actual rapids are in, there’s going to be so many more things for people to do downtown. And with the bike path there — what a great place to run, to rollerblade, to take your pet for a walk. And so I was really focusing on the healthy lifestyles and what the river had to offer. We actually have a really healthy river; people don’t know that.
The mural is very different from your usual painting style.
I started as a designer and I always call myself a visual communicator; a visual problem solver. I did a lot of advertising campaigns and annual reports, and then I had kids, and then the software all changed.
How else do you participate in the Dayton community?
I serve on the board for the House of Bread in Dayton. It’s basically a soup kitchen, open seven days a week for lunch, and they prepare between 200-300 meals a day. By the end of the month, the place is packed. The board is all volunteers, there are about five paid staff members, and then the kitchen, the food is all prepared and served by volunteers. It’s sad when you see children come through. It makes you really want to do something to help prevent hunger in the city.
What do you wish people knew more about in Dayton?
Dayton’s got some great secrets. Our neighborhood leadership committee had to do a practicum and we chose the social media campaign #dateyourcity: Wherever you are, use the hashtag. I’m obsessed with the Taqueria Garcia truck on the corner of Huffman and Third — it’s a tiny little trailer that makes the most amazing tacos, they have cow tongue and chicken and chorizo. So go do something fun like that, photograph it and use the hashtag #dateyourcity.
There are so many things in Dayton people don’t know about, but I don’t want to keep them secrets. I want people to know about them.